As I was uploading this morning's post, I received a text from Joey 81, who often works with Samoan Red Cross. They were looking for volunteers to go work in affected villages on the south side of the island. With school canceled, I had nothing better to do. I asked Joey if I should bring anything. He said I should wear shoes. Good call, Joey.
At the Red Cross building a thousand different people were doing a thousand different things. Some filled water containers with a hose, some were painting makeshift banners to affix to the hoods of volunteers' cars, some were trying to figure out what to do about donated clothes and groceries. I found my friend Ruane, who drove a Toyota pickup truck. We loaded it with nineteen 20-gallon water containers, went to her house to fill them (since there was only one hose at the Red Cross), and then headed out to Lalomanu.
There have been reports coming in from lots of sources about the damage to villages along the south coast. Saleilua took quite a hit. Salesatele was reeling. Many resorts including Sinalei, Coconuts, Vavau, Iliili, and Sea Breeze had taken hits hard enough to put them temporarily out of business. Beach fales in Tafitoala and Saleapaga and Lalomanu were leveled. We'd heard about all this.
But nothing is more sobering than driving through a familiar village and finding it unrecognizable. The Faofao Beach Fales are gone. There's nothing there. The building is leveled, the fales themselves have been swept away. I only knew we were there because of the newly installed speed bump. In fact, Ruane, who's never stopped at Faofao, was the one who said, "I those were beach fales there." I had no idea.
Arriving at the hospital in Lalomanu, which had been setup as the Red Cross headquarters, we quickly learned the first two steps of disaster relief:
- Distribute water to the survivors; and
- Locate those who didn't survive.
We turned and went back to the hospital when we were out of water. There, we were assigned to go down to Lalomanu tai to help with "clean-up" efforts. We later found out this was a euphemism for picking through rubble searching for the deceased.
Searching for the dead is difficult in many different ways. Most rubble is heavy and haphazard and jagged. Sifting through, lifting and dropping, and finding footholds is strenuous, and Samoan humidity doesn't help. The scene is surreal. Dead fish, left behind by the ocean, litter the affected area. And then there’s the emotional leap (repression?) required to look for dead bodies.
More than anything though, I felt like an intruder. Before the earthquake, I'd driven by the area we searched many times, but never did I stop to search the family’s possessions or prod through their kitchen. And yet there I was today, finding family photos and Quiksilver baseball caps and notebooks and aquatic charts and condoms and novels and gin. 2 days ago, it would have been completely unacceptable for me to trudge into these peoples’ lives; it’s as though with the loss brought on by the tsunami comes the loss of one’s dignity. I felt like I was snooping.
While we were there, 4 bodies were found in the ocean, and 1 very small body was found in the rubble. The mood was somber, but it was also numb and surreal.
Briony and I had a conversation last night about the disparity between our situation in which we felt a little rumble yesterday morning, losing nothing, and the horrible situation of the people who live 20 miles away, who lost everything. It’s a difficult situation to reconcile.
In any case, my school is closed for the rest of the week. I’ve heard about a possible meeting at the Peace Corps tomorrow morning to discuss relief-related efforts. And I’ll probably head out to the south coast again.
Pictures below. Previous posts before that. Happy birthday, Chris!
Cement house torn down.
Submerged, capsized car.
Saleapaga Elementary School was pretty devastated. There's a gate with no fence.
Chunks of the street missing.
Fale with only 2 poles remaining. Roof and remaining poles gone.
Mormon Church (famous in Samoa for being built to American construction codes) crushed.
This house in Vailoa has words spray-painted on the walls that read, "We're Still Thugging" and "RIP All Y'all. Life Goes On."
There were a bunch of photos on the dashboard of this car.
Volunteers combing the beach with sticks, poking the sand, looking for bodies.
This family is wading around a submerged van.
Sirens went off just before 5:30 p.m. yesterday as I was walking home from Mulivae. It was a repeat of yesterday morning watching cars rush up the mountain while (albeit less dense) crowds started up the sidewalks. Shortly after the evacuation began, the Peace Corps sent out a message saying it had been canceled. But standing on the Cross Island Road watching car after car move uphill and family after family carrying suitcases, I figured it might be foolish to stay at my house.
I headed up to Blakey and Briony’s house and slept on their living room floor.
Schools in Apia are canceled today, although staff is supposed to show up anyway. When I showed up late this morning, the only two staff members present were Renita and me.
There are some efforts by Peace Corps Volunteers to setup some sort of information post where we can update each other and fill in gaps in information. We’re also looking into relief efforts and ways people overseas can help, as I hear about them, I will let you know. In the mean time, the NZ Red Cross is taking donations specifically for the Samoan Red Cross.
Tourists and Apia natives climb the hill.
This family packed bags for the night.
Fire Department moving to higher ground.